He was one of those actors who could be from anywhere.
His first film role is arguably his finest: in Baby Doll (1956). the film that set a new is arguably his finest. As Silva Vacarro, he’s shrewd, insidious, and so sexy that he beds Baby Doll (Carroll Baker) before her husband (Karl Malden) can. No film had ever before caused such a ruckus: it was derided and lobbied against in many parts of the world and the Catholic church classified the act of viewing it a sin. Silva and Baby Doll’s scene on the garden swing explains much of the fuss. Shot in tight close-ups by Elia Kazan, many were concerned about where Wallach’s hands were going. Kazan said he location was so cold his camera had to be close to hide the heaters around the two.
But Wallach beguiled us no matter where he was: as a mafioso eating poisoned cannoli in a Sicilian opera house, or in Mexico as a bandito, or in a courtroom trying to have Streisand declared insane. He did what every actor seeks: to be present. And he did what few actors seek: he made his presence seem so inevitable that he simply blended in.